The Los Angeles Angels also gave him enough money to make him the second highest paid player on a per-year basis at somewhere around $25.4 million per season over that 10 years.
Ten year deals are bad. A look at the long term big money deals recently is a who’s who of bad money, from the Alex Rodriguez deal (he’s only through year 4) to Joe Mauer, to Vernon Wells, to Johan Santana and to Mark Texeira.
Still, the Angels are getting a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols, and one that is likely to be a pretty good hitter in the near future. They will get a boost in publicity and buzz in the Los Angeles market, and a boost in their likelihood of chasing down the Rangers in the AL West, which provides additional playoff revenues. So yes, Albert Pujols has value beyond the field and what his average production might bring for a team.
As a fan of a small market team, I like other teams signing these big deals, because they eventually catch up to them. If I were a fan of a team in the free agency game, I suppose I would much rather my team sign Albert Pujols than spend a lot of money, but not as much in terms of years or total amount, on guys like Jayson Werth.
One thing we can ask ourselves about this Pujols’ deal is how long will he likely remain productive. That, of course, is a question that we can only take an educated guess at, given the small sample of players similar to Albert Pujols, and the fact that individual results, from Lou Gehrig’s illness to Barry Bonds’ (ahem) late career improvement are part of the results. Using baseball-reference, I found all other batters who had an offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 50 or more between ages 24 and 31. I kicked out three of those who did not have at least 10.0 WAR at age 30-31, so we weren’t picking up any significant decline before the same age Pujols is now.
The remaining 21 players are among the best hitters in baseball, those who are eligible are in the Hall of Fame, and are decent comps to estimate Albert’s future. Pujols is slightly above the average of the group in WAR between ages 24-31, but toward the bottom end for ages 30-31 (only Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, and Mickey Mantle had fewer WAR at ages 30 to 31 for this group). This matters, because there is a correlation in this group between value at ages 30 and 31, and future career value through age 41 (the correlation coefficient was +0.36 if you care). So we can fairly ask whether Pujols should be projected for this average of this group, with his decline from previous prodigious heights over the last two years, and the wrist injury from last season. There have also always been whispers about his age, but for now, we’ll go with 32 before next year starts.
Rather than give you a chart, I’ll give you some names from corner infield/corner outfield/designated hitter types from 2011 that represent the average WAR at each age for this collective group of Hall of Famers most similar to Albert. I’ve tried to pick out some big names, even ones that had poor seasons, to show what the aging curve might look like on average under this contract. I list the average WAR at the same age for the comp group (using 0 for all retired players), as well as the amount that were above 5.0 for that season, and the amount below 2.0.
- Age 32: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez or Joey Votto (6.8 WAR, 75% over 5.0 WAR, 0 under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 33: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez or Joey Vott0 (6.8 WAR, 80% over 5.0 WAR, 5% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 34: Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee or Carlos Beltran (4.7 WAR, 45% over 5.0 WAR, 15% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 35: Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee or Carlos Beltran (4.8 WAR, 45% over 5.0 WAR, 15% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 36: Justin Upton, Matt Holliday or Kevin Youkilis (4.2 WAR, 25% over 5.0 WAR, 25% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 37: Aramis Ramirez, Paul Konerko or Josh Hamilton (3.6 WAR, 35% over 5.0 WAR, 40% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 38: Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez or Jeff Francouer (2.7 WAR, 25% over 5.0 WAR, 50% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 39: Jayson Werth, Carlos Pena or Torii Hunter (2.2 WAR, 15% over 5.0 WAR, 65% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 40: Andruw Jones, Pat Burrell or Derrek Lee (1.0 WAR, 5% over 5.0 WAR, 85% under 2.0 WAR)
- Age 41: Casey Blake, Scott Rolen or Jason Bay (0.6 WAR, 0% over 5.0 WAR, 90% under 2.0 WAR)
The break even point where the future Hall of Famers were just as likely to start being “just starters” with a WAR under 2.0 or retired, as they were to be among the best hitters, is about age 36 and 37, roughly the halfway point of this deal. By age 38, our star hitters were twice as likely to be unproductive as they were to All Stars. The Angels will still have four years left then.
Of course, this can be like the preseason football games for season ticket holders scenario. They complain, but they are really paying for 8 games, for the price of 10, and must be willing to pay a little more than the average game price for those regular season games. We should really look at this as a 6 year deal, with deferred compensation included for another 4 years. Pujols for years 1 & 2, if he performs like a MVP candidate like most of his comps did at ages 32 and 33, is a bargain at the average price. By years 3 & 4, he is not, but is at least close, unless the cost of wins have increased more dramatically than expected with inflation and league revenues increases.
If we assume the value of a win is 4.5 in 2012, with a healthy 5% inflation rate in value per year, then plugging those numbers into our average Elite Hall of Famer results in 196 million over 10 years. If we use 5.o with the same inflation rate, then I get 217 million over the life of the deal. For several reasons: age concerns, bigger decline in recent production relative to other elite hitters in comparison, size and aging pattern given his skill set, I would take the under on achieving that value.
The Angels have decided that Albert is worth about $40 to 50 million more to them than I think he is probably worth on the field over the next ten years. They better realize that up front, with playoff appearances, attendance boost, and merchandise and advertising sales (relative to what another elite hitter would provide). By 2016 they may be regretting it if they did not get a huge boon early. The Alex Rodriguez deal already looks like an albatross less than halfway through, as does other deals like Ryan Howard’s. If Albert is playing like just an average starter halfway through, and at DH, they will have plenty of years to savor the good times with Albert.
[photo via Getty]